Phillies' win honors Manuel, mother
Dedicated squad 'wanted to win this one' for grieving skipper
LOS ANGELES -- The Phillies did what they could do to ease the pain. Winning a baseball game was the one thing they could do for their manager, Charlie Manuel, on the day that his mother died.
It was a tribute to the respect and affection his players have for Manuel, that they all looked at it this way. Nothing was going to overcome the immense sadness of the occasion, but the one thing the Philadelphia players could control, they controlled. And that was an 8-5 victory over the Dodgers, giving the Phillies a 2-0 lead in the National League Championship Series.
"The best thing to do to honor him and his mother was to go out there and play with all our hearts," said third baseman Greg Dobbs. "We all love Charlie," said closer Brad Lidge. "We all have a world of respect for him. I don't think he would have wanted us to be thinking about that while we were playing, but we wanted to win this one for him."
The winning pitcher in Game 2, Brett Myers, had essentially dedicated his efforts to Manuel's mother.
"I went up to him as I was getting ready for the game," Myers said. "I told him, 'I'm going to win this for your Mom today.' So it was in the back of my mind, for sure. But he's been so good to us. We've got to show him some love, too, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family dealing with this time."
It was a time of triumph for the Phillies, just two victories away from the World Series now, but it was a somber Phillies clubhouse afterward. And it became more so after the news that center fielder Shane Victorino's paternal grandmother had died. Victorino had made a leaping, potentially game-saving catch at the wall, and he was about to go to the interview room to discuss this crucial play when he received the news of his grandmother's passing.
A series of Phillies coaches and players came over to Victorino's locker, hugging him, attempting to console him. It was a day of victory, but it was heavy with loss.
"This is a game we love and play with passion," Lidge said. "But family comes first for everybody."
Manuel chose to come to work on Friday, to manage this game, and he has chosen to remain with the Phillies through a potential Game 5 in this Series. But his next stop after that would be his mother's funeral, in Buena Vista, Va., where he and his 10 brothers and sisters grew up. That was still the home of Manuel's mother, June, until Friday when she passed away at age 87.
"I can't imagine a better person in the world than my mother," Manuel said in a 2005 interview. "I hope everybody's mom is like mine. She's been very special to me, and I've been very lucky to have a mother like her."
Mrs. Manuel did a very nice job with her boy, Charlie. He is one of baseball's genuine good guys. And he is one of baseball's legitimately good managers -- seven seasons, three division titles, three second-place finishes, and now, here are his Phillies in the 2008 NLCS with a 2-0 lead.
Manuel is liked and admired by his troops in part because he treats them as men, and in part because the quality of empathy runs deeply within him.
"He's always there to back you, no matter if you have a bad start or a good start," said Myers. "He's always the first guy in there patting you on the back, [saying], 'Hang with them; get them the next time.' He shows a lot of confidence in you, whether you are doing bad or good."
Prominence in the game didn't come early or easily to Manuel. After a truly marginal big league career, Manuel went to Japan, and he will tell you that in six seasons playing Japanese baseball, he found himself, not only as a player but as an individual. He returned to the States when his playing career was over, and he worked his way up the ladder -- scout, Minor League manager, Major League hitting coach and Major League manager, first in Cleveland, now in Philadelphia.
Along the way, some people have underestimated Manuel. To a certain element of the Northern urban pseudo-sophisticate crowd, anyone who speaks with a drawl is a rube, a hick, a yokel. There is no doubt that Manuel sounds like his roots in the Blue Ridge Mountains, possessing a thick hill country accent that is often mistakenly described as Southern. The only thing that matters here is that he is an astute baseball man, and beyond that a fundamentally decent human being.
There was an initial reaction is some less tolerant quarters that Manuel could not possibly fit in Philly. All right, maybe he was bluegrass and maybe the city was more like heavy metal. But he could manage. He understood the game, he understood the players, and after taking more than his share of criticism, he is emerging on the right side of the argument, managing a team that has won two straight division titles and appears to be closing in on a World Series berth.
All of that, of course, didn't diminish the sadness that was felt on Friday with the death of his mother.
"I can only imagine how hard this is for him," Dobbs said. "The death of your mother has to be one of the hardest things you go through in life. I know him. I know he's a compassionate, caring individual."
If there was consolation to be found around in Citizens Bank Park, it was not merely in the fact that the Phillies won. It was found in the notion that Manuel's players wanted to win this one for him, because they knew how much he cared for them, and because this was the one thing they could do for him in the time of his personal loss. Phillies 8, Dodgers 5; yes, that was how it needed to be.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.